Are you lactose intolerant or think you might be? Our blogger Amelia Winslow wrote this article to help people like you ward off those unpleasant side effects. These and other helpful articles can be found at LesserEvil Life.
If your stomach rumbles every time you eat dairy, you might be tempted to swear off this food group forever.
But sometimes you can find alternatives. People with lactose intolerance can usually enjoy some dairy products, without suffering the unpleasant consequences they may have become accustomed to.
Before we go any further, let’s review what it means to be “lactose intolerant.” Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk and many dairy products. Most people can easily digest lactose because they have an enzyme called “lactase” in their gut. People with lactose intolerance don’t have enough lactase to digest lactose. In this instance, dairy consumption can cause stomach aches, bloating, gas, or diarrhea.
With those unpleasant symptoms, why would anyone whose even remotely lactose intolerant want to try eating dairy? Because dairy is an excellent source of naturally-occurring calcium and protein. It’s also delicious, and many foods are made with dairy products, which can make eating out inconvenient for those who have lactose intolerance.
What Can You Eat If You’re Lactose Intolerant?
- Yogurt. The good bacteria (live, active cultures) found in yogurt will digest the lactose for you. Choose a high quality yogurt (here’s a guide to help) with very few ingredients, or Greek yogurt, which has less lactose to begin with.
- Aged cheeses. The harder a cheese is, the less lactose it has. That’s because the lactose is found in the watery part of milk, and harder cheeses have less liquid, so less lactose. Extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan, Pecorino, aged gouda, and other very hard cheeses have essentially no lactose.
- Lactase-fortified dairy products. Lactaid is the most well-known example in this category, but there now quite a few other cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams that are fortified with the lactase enzyme, so people with lactose intolerance can digest them.
- Low-fat dairy products in small amounts. Low-fat dairy like low-fat milk and cheese, are easier on the system, and can be consumed in small amounts, especially when combined with other foods at a meal (these foods are also higher in protein and calcium than their high-fat counterparts). Finding the foods that work for you may just be a matter of trial and error, so start slow.
- Dairy products eaten with a lactase pill. Some people find lactase enzyme pills more effective than others, but they’re worth a try. Pop a lactase pill 30-60 minutes before consuming dairy to see if this method works for you. (Note: it probably won’t work if you take lactase and then down a huge banana split, but it may be effective for eating a small serving of cereal with milk).
What Foods Should Be Avoided?
- Very high fat dairy products, like ice cream, soft creamy cheeses, and cream (including foods made with cream). These are harder to digest than low-fat dairy products, and will likely cause unpleasant symptoms. The one exception here is aged cheese, which is high-fat but low-lactose.
- Whey protein concentrate. This is a doozy, because it’s added to a lot of foods to make them seem richer and creamier. But it can wreak havoc on a lactose intolerant person’s system (and on a normal person’s system), because it often contains concentrated lactose.
- Soft-serve ice cream/frozen yogurt. This is mostly because of reason #2. Many soft-serve desserts, smoothies, and protein shakes have significant amounts of whey protein concentrate, and will cause major digestive distress. If you love ice cream-style desserts, buy real frozen yogurt from the grocery store (Stonyfield, Julie’s Organic, and Straus Family Creamery all contain live active cultures that will help you digest).